It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was good tournament football.
That’s why Portugal finally took home the European Championship trophy. After being denied the title by underdogs Greece almost ten years to the day, Portugal had their own underdog comeuppance over host nation France to win Euro 2016.
Manager Fernando Santos set out from the first game against Iceland to let pragmatism outweigh entertainment value, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his team.
Santos instructed his team to defend deep and try to find the breakthrough on the counter – not the most exciting football, but arguably the most effective in the situation.
SANTOS’ MASTER PLAN
Knowing he had a solid back-line held together by notorious hard-man Pepe, a midfield with the fantastic young Renato Sanches, and a forward line with the ever-potent Ronaldo, Nani and Ricardo Quaresma at his disposal, Santos was happy to win at any cost.
For fans, entertainment value is becoming increasingly important in modern football, sometimes even surpassing the actual result.
But ask any fan, no amount of beautiful football will ever replace the sheer jubilation of winning a tournament.
That’s why Santos’ tactics will see their share of praise and criticism from those who watched Portugal play at Euro 2016.
It was often ugly and uninspiring, but there are lessons to be learnt from the way Portugal came out the other side as champions of Europe.
While they never lost a game throughout the tournament, they had to wait until the semi-final against Wales to win a game in 90 minutes.
As in any tournament, the Portuguese had their share of luck.
Three draws from three group games left the Portuguese in third place, taking advantage of the new third-place-progression rule better than its creators would’ve ever expected.
Even in the final, with Ronaldo sidelined early after a knock on the knee, France’s Antoine Griezmann and Andre-Pierre Gignac missed chances they would’ve taken any other day.
And who would’ve picked Eder to score the winning goal in an international tournament?
Unfortunately, the tactics Santos employed may tarnish the reputation of this victory.
Football fans don’t forget the way in which teams play, especially when ‘negative’ tactics produce results and better teams miss out.
The aforementioned Greece clearly haven’t been forgotten, and the Netherlands’ 1974 World Cup team will forever be known as the greatest ever team to not win an international tournament.
Santos’ negative tactics won’t be forgotten in a hurry by opposing fans, but neither will the trophy now sitting proudly in Portugal’s previously empty cabinet.